"To look for clues rationally in such an irrational document is really a fool's game." - Loren Coleman, as quoted by the Associated Press on April 19, 2007, regarding rationalizations by NBC Nightly News for broadcasting the VA Tech shooter's "press packet."
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the media more openly discussed the significance of the copycat effect. This is a first, especially for the American media.
A couple days ago, a longtime suicide prevention associate of mine emailed me a short but concise message: "I've thought of you so many times since this last major VA Tech event. Even though the media reaction was as expected it seems this time may have been a turning point. Many more people stood up to say the kinds of things you have been saying for years."
While the wall-to-wall interest is beginning to wane, it might be a good time to collect some of the quotations published in the print and online media about the copycat effect.
During April and into early May, more members of the media found their way to my emailbox and telephone this time around, interviewing me about my 2004 book and my recent comments and predictions, than ever before. Has a heightened awareness occurred regarding insights useful in examining the copycat effect? Perhaps.
Let me review these "copycat quotes," as they have been appearing after the April 16 VA Tech shootings.
The "massacre," as the press was calling it already, had just occurred on April 16, when Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing mentioned The Copycat Effect immediately, and revisited this theme over the next few days, here, here, and here.
During these posts, Xeni Jardin directed a question, with links, to me: "I'm sure 'Copycat Effect' author Loren Coleman would have something to say about the following exchange, which occurred just now on CNN's 'Situation Room' with Wolf Blitzer...." Then she published a snippet of the CNN exchange about the "copycat factor." Xeni followed in the days afterward with more: "'Copycat Effect' author Loren Coleman weighs in with an entry on his blog about speculation that the VA Tech shooting is likely to be followed by 'copycat' events...."
Other mainstream media, as they often do, soon followed Boing Boing's lead, and as it would turn out, the Canadian media's interest from last fall.
On April 18, 2007, a Bloomberg News article, "U.S. College Officials Scramble to Improve Campus Security" was published.
It contained these passages on the national media's attempt to discuss the copycat effect this time around:
The attack at Virginia Tech, carried out by [Seung Hui] Cho, 23, born in South Korea and a permanent U.S. resident since 1992, was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It came eight years after two students killed 13 people and themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
After Columbine, there were 450 copycat threats, plots or shootings, according to Loren Coleman, a suicide prevention and school violence consultant. Schools in seven states were locked down or evacuated yesterday, the Associated Press reported.
"Homicide is just a suicide turned outward,'' Coleman, author of the 2004 book, "The Copycat Effect,'' said in an interview. "If we focus on analysis around the act, rather than to how people feel and react to this, then we have problems.''Tom Randall and Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg News, April 18, 2007
The University of Pennsylvania's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian printed an April 18, 2007, article, "DPS on high alert for copycat of shootings", which noted:
Caution is necessary, according to Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect. Coleman said that "vulnerable people who are thinking about suicide and murder-suicide" may view the Virginia Tech massacre as "something to model, something to emulate. … We can't let our guard down."Emily Babay, Daily Pennsylvanian, April 18, 2007
On Thursday, April 19, 2007, Xeni Jardin's "Xeni Tech" program, introduced me as her first guest on the National Public Radio News' "Day to Day." Writing on Boing Boing about her NPR examination, she said in her Boing Boing posting, "VA Tech Killer's Digital Vanity Package":
For today's report, I spoke with Loren Coleman, author of "The Copycat Effect." Coleman believes that by replaying Cho's vanity videos over and over again, the media is perpetuating the cycle that inspired him to commit multiple murders in the first place. In that multimedia material, Cho describes the two teens responsible for Columbine as "martyrs" -- Coleman says this and other details prove Cho was aping and trying to one-up previous shootings, including the one in Montreal last year.Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing, April 19, 2007
The Associated Press on April 19, 2007, carried widely an article looking at the possible (and dubious) link between one of Seung Hui Cho's photographs and a Korean film, Oldboy. In "VT killer's hammer pose resembles movie", the AP noted:
Loren Coleman, author of "The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines," says that he's gradually coming to see Cho as a "copycat of many things," especially Columbine. In one missive, Cho referred to the Harris and Klebold as "martyrs."
"This in-depth analysis of his manifesto and this document, we may get some hints there, but this was a person that was terribly imbalanced," Coleman said. "To look for clues rationally in such an irrational document is really a fool's game."Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer, April 19, 2007
After that Associated Press story, the next day the wire service published another article ("Experts Alert for Va. Tech Copycats") in almost 1000 locations around the world. In that piece, once again interest was shown in the copycat effect:
Loren Coleman, a psychiatric social worker in Maine who wrote "The Copycat Effect," said "celebrity school shootings actually increase the suicide rate and increase the violence rate for a short period of time."
"These people are psychologically competing with each other to increase the body count," Coleman said.Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, April 20, 2007.
The Copycat Effect: Loren Coleman's weblog "The Copycat Effect" (which is also the name of his book) examines the copycat effect of the Virginia Tech murders. He points out that a school attack last week in Oregon (no fatalities) appeared to have been inspired by a recent National Geographic tv special on Columbine. He offers a grim warning of the high risk of more copycat attacks in the next several weeks. Pointing to school attacks in Canada and Germany in recent years, he notes that the problem is not confined to the United States.David Kopel, April 17, 2007
There is strong evidence that mass killers, including the Columbine perpetrators, attentively study the media attention given to previous murderers. Loren Coleman, author of the book The Copycat Effect, points out on his weblog that one week after Columbine, there was a copycat school attack in Taber, Alberta, Canada. A month later there was a copycat attack in Conyers, Ga. Subsequent Columbine copycats included school killers in Red Lake, Minn.; Santee, Calif.; Dawson College in Montreal, Canada; and this week at Virginia Tech.David Kopel, "Airing, publishing killer's photos, rants reckless," The Rocky Mountain News, April 21, 2007
The Toronto Star in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, published an article reflecting on the related themes:
"We're helping this man with his propaganda," concurs Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. Ever since the shooting at Montreal's Dawson College last fall, Coleman has been warning media of their responsibility. He points out how the number of school shootings has escalated dramatically ever since Columbine, and how, in each instance, there are echoes of the previous killings. [Seung Hui ] Cho, for example, cited Columbine's "martyrs" Harris and Klebold. His poses echoed Dawson shooter's Kimveer Gill's self-portraits.
"Cho really wasn't interested in having people understand him," says Coleman. "He was interested in having a platform."Antonia Zerbisias, "Need-to-know vs. sensationalism," Toronto Star, April 20, 2007
The New York Post reporter who interviewed me used almost everything I shared for her piece on the 22nd. It turned out to be an extremely factual rendering. She ended it with:
"Cho was an empty vessel and he poured himself full from images off the Internet - the culture of Columbine, Dawson College and terrorism," said Loren Coleman, an expert on school shootings and author of "The Copycat Effect."
"There's a psychological process that these shooters appear to be competing for - the highest body count."Jill Culora, "Sick Homages From A Student of Psychos," New York Post, April 22, 2007
The Gothamist looked back to look ahead:
The whole idea of copycats brings us to another [WNYC’s] On the Media interview, this one from October in the aftermath of the Amish school shooting. Then, they interviewed Loren Coleman, a suicide prevention consultant and school violence researcher and author of the book The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. He was of the opinion that the media’s over coverage of tragedies, starting with the Columbine shootings have set up a model for the later perpetrators of these violent acts. In the interview Coleman noted, “I think that one of the reasons that I wrote my book, The Copycat Effect, was really to try to begin the debate within the media about how much is too much. The graphic details that we see on the cable wall-to-wall coverage and in some other media really sets up a situation where these vulnerable people have a model in front of them to then plan their outrages in a similar fashion. Since August 24th, these individuals have all been males, they've all been Caucasian, they all have been outsiders, either expelled students or older males, and they all have victimized females - young girls, usually – or authority figures, in the case of principals or teachers or guards.”
If you look at some of the Columbine shooter’s videos, which were only released a few years after the fact and only after much legal wrangling, there seems to be a lot of parallels with Cho’s video. Was the oversaturated coverage of these paste events inspiration? It is probable and it is no doubt that Cho’s desire to be heard from the grave was sent to NBC instead of being squirreled away in the case files as has happened in the past.Toby von Meistersinger, "Television Watching: How Much Is Too Much?" The Gothamist, April 24, 2007
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.
...initial lyrics from "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan
In the wake of the VA Tech shootings, those killed will be forever young, as we have seen before after other school shootings.
Sadly, the current copycat cycle does not appear to be finished, yet.